TULSA, Okla. — Rico Abreu’s victory in Saturday night’s 29th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals may have been one of the most popular in the history of the event held inside the River Spirit Center.
The diminutive California racer dominated the second half of the 55-lap race to win it for the first time aboard the Toyota-powered Keith Kunz Motorsports No. 97. It was the first victory for Kunz at the Chili Bowl since 2002.
Abreu, the reigning Honda USAC National Midget Series champion, exited his car and leaped into the arms of Kunz as the fans chanted, “Rico, Rico, Rico.”
Abreu’s popularity also showed in that his souvenir chest was bare long before the feature even hit the race track.
Having won more than 20 features last season, including USAC, POWRi, World of Outlaws, All Star Circuit of Champions, Midwest Open Wheel Ass’n and King of the West sanctioned events, Abreu will add some NASCAR K&N Pro Series races to his schedule this year.
• Two-time Chili Bowl National winner Tony Stewart may not have been racing this year, but he was plenty busy during the five-day event. Stewart was consulting with Chili Bowl co-founder Emmett Hahn on preparation of the quarter-mile dirt track and was soon riding tractors and various other pieces of equipment throughout the weekend.
• NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch, who raced in the Indianapolis 500 last year, was at the Chili Bowl and told SPEED SPORT representatives that he hoped to put together a ride to be on the track during next year’s 30th annual Chili Bowl Nationals.
• Another NASCAR driver, Kenny Wallace, made his Chili Bowl debut this week. He made it to the first J Main on Saturday before being eliminated from competition.
• Legendary open-wheel racer Sammy Swindell and NASCSAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson were involved in an on-track skirmish Saturday night that carried over into the pits after the race.
The two exchanged heated words and Larson later tweeted about Swindell, referring to him as being “blind.”
• A record 326 cars and drivers were entered in this year’s Chili Bowl. There were 61 flips during the five nights of racing.
• Damion Gardner drove Doug Stringer’s Jason Leffler Memorial No 71L from the first B main and from 23rd to third in Saturday night’s feature.
• NASCAR and IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske was among those making the rounds in the pits on Saturday night. He served as the grand marshal for Saturday’s 55-lap finale. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser was also on hand.
• NASCAR driver Danica Patrick took in the Chili Bowl, watching her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who returned to his open-wheel racing roots.
• Dave Darland, who is still seeking his first Chili Bowl victory, won the C main and charged through the field in the first B main to qualify for the feature for the 14th time in his career. Jerry Coons Jr. started his 16th Chili Bowl feature.
• Kevin Swindell has finished first or second in six consecutive Chili Bowls.
• Andrew Deal finished eighth in his first Chili Bowl feature.